In film lore, you can say Candyman five times in a mirror to summon the murderous vengeful spirt. You can say Bloody Mary five times and spin around to summon a wicked banshee. Or you can forget all the spooky crap, say Beetlejuice three times and call the funniest, most unruly ghost the underworld ever produced.
Beetlejuice is the 1988 supernatural comedy directed by Tim Burton starring Michael Keaton like you have never seen him before. An overzealous, over-sexed, suit wearing maniac who unleashes his own brand of haunting on the living world. The weird and quirky film is a must for all Burton fans and is one of his greatest on screen accomplishments with a witty script, superb cast, and some of the most memorable set pieces stop-motion and puppetry every produced.
When Barbara and Adam Maitland (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) decide to spend vacation at home they expect a peaceful two weeks together. Unfortunately, for them, their car ends up in a river after an accident. On returning home, the pair soon realise they did not survive the crash and are now in the world of the deceased. Hanging around their human home, it is soon sold to a couple of New York yuppies the Deetz (Catherine O’Hara and Jeffrey Jones). To rid them of their unwanted guests, the Maitland’s call on a wayward ghost Betelgeuse (pronounced Beetlejuice) to perform a living exorcism. But Beetlejuice (Keaton) has eyes on the couple’s young daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) and sets about unleashing the dead on the living.
After the success of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Burton was sent a number of scripts for his next project. Unhappy at their lack of creativity, he was eventually handed an early script for Beetlejuice. After a few rewrites and adding his own brand of weird the film became the cult classic we know today. Beetlejuice possess (excuse the pun) a story and premise so bizarre it could have been written by Burton himself. Yet this is why it was such a perfect project for him.
For a story that deals with death this is a strangely uplifting tale. Death is just another stage that needs to be worked out and handled but the couple are together and can make new friends. Death is almost humorous in the way it is portrayed here. The dead man with the shark attached to his leg or the man burnt alive who is still smoking a cigarette all mock this next stage of being.
Like so much of Burton’s work the film contrasts the world of the living and the world of the dead. Also another Burton signature is that the underworld is portrayed as more alive and vibrant than the real world. The living world is bland and lifeless while the land of the dead is full of exotic characters and colourful settings.
For this film, Burton drew on his animation background of stop-motion to create the films weird selection of creatures. From the inhabitants of the undead waiting room to the sand worm that awaits the Maitland’s if they leave their human home. The film may not compared to the range of CGI used in blockbusters of today yet the film has a unique and classic look. Many will think of the works of Ray Harryhausen when watching these creatures inhabit the screen (a clear idol of Burton’s).
For today’s audiences Michael Keaton is remembered for his role as Batman (also Burton films) and his recent star turn in Birdman. Yet the great actor began his career as a famed comedic performer. His later casting as The Dark Knight was met with disapproval and uproar from audiences until the film’s successful release. Despite how he may be seen today Keaton was and is a brilliant comedy talent. With razor sharp wit, charm and perfect timing, he is a humorous force in the little time he spends on screen. His stripped suit is an iconic image and seeing at least one Beetlejuice per Halloween is inevitable.
The film was also a breakout role for the young Winona Ryder as Lydia. Playing the young, unusual Goth girl become synonymous with Ryder in her early career yet her talent soon broke away from these restraints.
Catherine O’Hara, who would later go on to voice Sally in The Nightmare Before Christmas and Mrs Frankenstein in Frankenweenie, here stands out as Delia Deetz. A frantic, image obsessed neurotic step-mother whose disbelief in the ghosts in her house drives much of the films humour.
A quintessential Burtonesque film containing his striking visuals, quirky characters and making the afterlife not a bad place to spend eternity.
Happy 30th Anniversary Beetlejuice!